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Listening To Silence

Updated: May 11

When we're listening in a moment of silence, I feel like we are in moments of reflection, And in these moments of reflection, we discover things about ourselves; we listen to the world around us. Simu Liu

Recently, I've been hearing sounds of silence.

Sharing The Sound of Slience

The Sound of Silence is an NPR (National Public Radio) Book of the Year. Adults, as well as children, can share what silence means to them, by downloading (for free) Storyteller Online's Teacher Activity Guide.

Following are two book readings of The Sound of Silence:

Why do you think "The Sound of Silence" is featured in a variety of media, such as the following?

  • A song, composed and sung by the American music duo Simon & Garfunkel.

  • Lyics by Simon & Garfunkel, played throughout The Graduate film.

  • A film about a successful "house tuner" in NY City, who calibrates the sound in people's homes in order to adjust to their moods.

Listening To Sounds of Silence between Other Sounds

Yesterday evening, I heard the sounds of silence between other sounds made by members of the audience at a recorded video of Berliner orchestral performance of La Mer, a symphony composed by Claude Debussy. What I liked about this performance is that the stage was empty of musicians at the beginning. There was no sound. Since there were no musicains on stage, the narrator invited the audience to make sounds with their voices and body of wind (clapping, whistling, arms waving), trickling water (hands rubbing together, rain (slapping hands against thighs), waves (arm swinging), ships' siren (blowing, hooting), and other sounds of the sea. Eventually, the musicians walked onstage with their instruments and played the symphony, interspersed with readings of poems related to the symphony by young poets. Watching the concert on streaming video allowed me to view the musicians playing key moments in the concert, such as the following: Woodwinds, Brass, Glockenspiel, Harps, and Strings. The viewer could both see and hear the musicians playing their instruments that were featured at each point in the program.

Listening to nature sounds, and musical compositions that sound like nature, can bring up reflections in other media. For example:

  • Many composers used simplified versions of motifs from La Mer, such as John Williams in the score he wrote for the Jaws film.

  • The first musical score in the King Kong film comes when the boat of the explorers arrives at the island where Kong lives. The name given the cue is “Boat In The Fog” and the orchestration here of sustained strings and harp arpeggios with ominous melody in winds and brass for me is reminiscent of Claude Debussy’s famous “La Mer (The Sea)." Source.

  • Artists and artworks influenced by Debussy's Le Mer include J.M.W. Turner, Hodusai (The Great Wave off Kanazawa) and Monet's seascapes.

Moments of Silence Between Sound and Space

I recently visited John Singer Sargent's Spain exhibit at the SF Legion of Honor. The artist's paintings of water and the sea evoked in me memories of Debussy's Le Mer Symphony. Debussy’s love of the sea derived from two sources: his father, a sailor, who told his son beguiling stories of his life on the ocean, and visual arts. Source.

Debussy said, "I have an endless store of memories…Music is a free art, boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, and the sea.” On the cover of the manuscript he placed the drawing titled Hollow of the Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai. Source. Many designers have copied that image in different ways, such as wallpaper, art prints, paint by numbers kits, jigsaw pubbles, design on mugs, tapestry, hoodies, silicone iPhone cases, backdrops, socks, mouse pads, t-shirts, and much more... The Hokusai's Wave off Kanagawa image and Debussy's Le Mer symphony inspire me to listen to moments of silence between sound and space.

Print at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

We're All Teachers and Learners

By listening to nature and music, by viewing art and viewing/listening to/moving in our environment, we discover things about ourselves; we listen to the world around us. Curriculum guides, such as StorylineOnline's Teachers' Guide to the Sound of Silence, are not just for teachers of elementary age students, but also for individuals of any age or stage. Following are a few questions from Storyline Online's reading of The Sounds of Silence that you can ask a group of elders, a parents' group, a grandparents' group, an intergenerational group, or reflect upon, yourself. (Source):

  • Everyone take a deep breath, close your eyes, and listen. What do you hear?

  • Is our room quiet or noisy right now?

  • Do you think a city is noisy? Thumbs up, thumbs down.

  • What are some of the noises you might hear in the city?

  • What do you think silence sounds like? Show me.

  • Where do you think you could find silence? Turn and talk to a partner.

  • Raise your hand if you like silence. Raise your hand if you like when it’s noisy.

More Resources on Listening To Silence

Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, A Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion, by Shannon Stocker, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth

In Pursuit of Silences: Listening for Meaning in a world of Noise, by George Prochnik

The Sound of Silence: The Teachings of Ajahn Sumedho

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